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The Future of Customer Service

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The business world has become increasingly more automated as organizations tap the power of computers, data and technological innovation to replace jobs formerly occupied by people. 

This includes customer service.

While technology may have made some aspects of customer service more cost effective, we’d argue that the human touch has never been more important (and more valuable) for organizations. This is especially true when we consider the cost of a bad customer experience. “Each year, businesses lose $41 billion from poor customer service,” says Nicola Brookes of New Voice Media.  

Research by New Voice Media also found that 93 percent of customers take action after a negative customer service experience — including taking their business elsewhere. 

But what exactly does good customer service look like in today’s marketplace, and what might it mean for the future? We consulted with some experts, and here’s what we learned:

1. Active listening skills are key
“My clients [look for] candidates who are great listeners,” says Larissa Jording, senior account recruiting manager at Aerotek. 

According to the Customer Service Training Institute, the best customer service reps have mastered the art of active listening, a skill “considered to be the key to effective customer service.” 

What does active listening look like? The Institute recommends that customer service reps practice active listening skills by avoiding all distractions when interacting with customers, paraphrasing what customers say to show that they are listening and asking the right questions to be certain that they fully understand the nature of customers’ questions or concerns. 

Great customer service isn’t always about being able to provide the answer a customer wants. Instead, it’s reassuring the customer that their concern has been heard and that it’s genuinely important.

2. Personal, on-demand customer service is not a luxury
Over the phone, social media, person-to-person, online chat and even the occasional snail mail, “Today’s customer service agents must be fluent in every form and on every communication channel if they expect to meet the needs of the 21st century customer,” says Aerotek Senior Professional Account Recruiting Manager Kaitlin Morkel

Michelle McGovern of Customer Insight Experience echoes the sentiment. “Nearly half of consumers will dump their online cart if they can’t find a quick answer to their questions. That means a customer service rep better be available to chat at any given second customers navigate your website.”

While online customer care has become the preferred method for large organizations with massive customer bases, there’s something to be said about having a human respond to your needs in a timely manner. 

Online shoe retailer Zappos, for example, is legendary for its personal customer service, despite its ecommerce platform. The company even celebrated a record-setting 10-hour customer care phone call that ultimately led to a sale of boots. 

The best customer service happens on the customer’s terms, not the company’s.

3. Product knowledge is a no-brainer
Consumers expect customer service reps to be knowledgeable about the products their companies sell. This is especially true in an age when consumers have more resources than ever to research products before making purchases; they’re well versed on the products and services sold by the company and its competitors. Employees better be, too.

Software company Jitbit advises customer service reps to “understand the product being sold as if they are daily users.” That kind of expertise comes from “consistent training,” “hands-on experience” and “role-playing,” says the software company.

Providing customer service training and educational resources for frontline employees to be successful shouldn’t be viewed as an expense — it’s an investment.

4. Social media has changed the industry 
While reputation has always been an important predictor of a business’s success, social media has amplified the impact and velocity of a negative (or positive) customer service experience in shaping public perceptions. As New Voice Media reports, “59 percent of customers 25-34 years old will share negative experiences online.” 

Once a negative impression is shared on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or another social media channel, changing the negative perception it creates is difficult. The remedy? 

Obviously, it starts with removing the things that lead customers to leave bad reviews, such as product and service quality issues. Beyond that, it requires urgency, a commitment to problem solving and the vision to treat an interaction as an opportunity to transform a negative relationship into a positive one — often while others on the social channel are watching.

5. Computers are smarter than ever
The newest trend in customer service and marketing is known as cognitive analytics. It refers to the ability of computers to analyze and interpret data more quickly and more accurately than the humans who operate them. 

According to a report from Deloitte, “A cognitive system can provide real-time answers to questions posed in natural language by searching through massive amounts of information that have been entered into its knowledge base, making sense of context, and computing the most likely answer.”

So-called super computers like IBM’s “Watson” can make customer service efforts more efficient by providing relevant answers quickly. Of course, there’s something to be said about having a live person on the other end to share those answers. 

A positive customer experience between human beings is something that even technology hasn’t been able to replace.

Looking for a career in customer service? Check out our job board for opportunities across a wide range of exciting and in-demand industries.